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Wallin, Xenakis, Lindbergh etc

Nordland Festival at Cadogan Hall

Rolf Wallin 'Imella Concerto' for fiddle and sinfonietta
Christian Lindberg Kundra’s Karma for speaking trombonist and sinfonietta
Iannis Xenakis's 'Thallein'
Jan Sandström's 'Wahlberg variations'

Bodø Sinfonietta/Christian Lindberg, trombone, with violinist Susanne Lundeng, fiddle/violin

Cadogan Hall, London, [15], 16 & 17 October 2009

- - a veritable tidal wave of musical activity will be unleashed on London when the Nordland Music Festival sweeps into the Cadogan Hall. Sloane Square won’t know what’s hit it. [Hilary Finch, The Times]

A mixed diet, our presence prompted by Hilary Finch... This was a three-day festival of Norwegian music-making, but it attracted woefully small audiences, mostly of London's Norwegian ex-pats.

The first evening, which we didn't cover, had just one presumed Norwegian item, a Schnelzer* string quartet, given by UK's Brodsky Quartet. We heard half of Jan Gunnar Hoff's 75-mins jazz composition Electric Blue on the Friday, departing pulverised but unenlightened, and concerned whether the band was wearing ear protectors.

Next night, because of the vagaries of London's weekend transport, we caught only the end of of Swedish composer Sandström's 'Wahlberg variations' - he best known here for his Motor Bike Concerto; it was a good vehicle for Lindbergh's tromboning skills, but that apart it seemed not really distinctive. And Lindbergh's own Concerto (overlong, and with a text about Lucifer and his poisoned whisky, which we found totally unengaging) continued a misconceived trilogy part-reviewed at the City of London Festival.

Which left two memorable items, worth the Sunday journey. Lindbergh impressed conducting an account of the Xenakis Thallein which showcased the Bodø Sinfonietta as an ensemble in the same class as the London Sinfonietta, which had commissioned it.

But all was eclipsed by folk fiddler Susanne Lundeng, who dominated the evening in real Norwegian music, a concerto by Rolf Wallin of utmost sophistication and subtlety, composed for this outstanding musician who has 'successfully renewed folk music without losing the heritage'.

Starting with single notes, vibrato-less, Lundeng gradually worked up to torrents of sound, stamping and crouching by turns, duetting with the leader who looked as if he wanted to leap up from his chair and join her. Lindbergh conducted this complex score with admirable precision.

Susanne Lundeng gave a solo encore, captivating her listeners with a composition of her own in like mode, and endeared herself to the audience as a musician to explore.

The Bodø Sinfonietta concert was being filmed, and the Imella Concerto ought to make a great DVD...

That was what had attracted us to a festival from North Norway in the Arctic Circle. Let's hope that London will host a real festival of Norwegian music before too long; this one had nearly been hijacked by the Swedes...

For such evenings, Cadogan Hall offers a splendid atmosphere for partying in the hall underneath before the concerts and in the intervals, one which it was exhilarating to join. But Cadogan Hall itself, which does well by the music with its splendid acoustics, suffers from its only auditorium being too large for an event such as this; they might consider at least the possibility of inviting listeners down near the stage to create a more intimate atmosphere, partitioning as at some European venues not being easily feasible?

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. Sorry, I find that Albert Schnelzer is "one of Sweden's most frequently performed contemporary composers" !

P.S. For a glimpse of what we are missing from Norway, see our coverage of one of their leading composers, Lars Thoresen...